Watching the heated Republican debates has been entertaining, to say the least. I can't wait to see who will throw the next stone and how the other will retaliate.
Of course, even members of the same team will have varying viewpoints. Difference of opinion and the freedom to express them are as fundamental to democracy as is the capacity of individuals to participate freely and fully in the life of their society. And, of course, presenting ideas to a group and engaging in challenging dialogue can help strengthen the team because it lets in new ideas and refines existing ones by subjecting them to criticism. But where is the line to be drawn between healthy debate, heated argument and vicious personal attacks? Does a team ever recover from this kind of mudslinging (no matter which end you're on), and can a party maintain its credibility if it doesn't treat its own members with respect?
By the time this column is printed, we will have a much better idea of who President Obama's Republican opponent will be. The losing candidates will need to get behind that front-runner and put grievances aside in order to attain the long term goal.
Love him or hate him, Newt Gingrich's response to the latest Romney gaffe -- or what was perceived as one -- makes sense: "I am fed up with politicians of either party dividing Americans against each other. I am running to be the president of all the American people, and I am concerned about all the American people."
Yes indeed. We must all hang together, or surely we will all hang separately. We must all work well together and devote our complementary skills toward the goal of, at least, survival and, at best, renewed prosperity. Whether quarterbacking a government, a vending business or the New York Giants (I write this column the Thursday before the Super bowl), that famous quotation by Ben Franklin powerfully communicates the necessity of teamwork.
In working together, I would encourage every team member to hold and express his or her own opinions, but also to recognize that no one wins every battle, and there may be times to retreat to fight another day. Even battles that are critical and worth fighting usually don't need to be fought immediately, and almost never to be fought to the last man.
Generating trust is also key. Team members need to feel comfortable and confident expressing their opinions without fear of reprisals, even if that opinion differs from that of the boss. Until team members trust one another and understand each other's personalities and individual work styles, wholehearted commitment to any project is difficult if not impossible.
It's important to understand that team members must have complementary skills. Each person on a team possesses distinctive strengths. When combined, these talents and skills enhance the capability of the team. In a high-performing team, members also can perform one another's jobs.
Teams must, certainly, have a common purpose. Most teams work on a particular project, task or departmental function. The most effective teams are ones that have a written statement outlining a clear mission and a defined goal.
Team members must have a common approach, a mutually understood doctrine. You can't throw a bunch people into a room and expect them to become an effective and productive team. Not having a structured way of doing work is one major reason teams fail. Project teams should follow a standardized method for solving problems, designing a new service or improving a process. What is wanted is not a mechanical mental checklist followed by rote, but a shared understanding of the best way to organize the resources at hand to get the job done. The principal benefit of this is that it enables the boss to know what any team leader or team member will do if a problem arises, which is why it is so prized in military staff work. Frederick the Great of Prussia told his generals that he and they might lose contact with one another during an approach; if so, they should not halt and wait for orders, but "march toward the sound of the cannon."
I realize that much of this is textbook, and you've likely heard it or read it somewhere else before. Why, then, is it that so many businesses, our present government included, do a poor job of fostering teamwork? I have seen too many organizations where open conflict existed between individuals and departments. Imagine working for a company where factions do their best to sabotage each other's efforts. Does this sound familiar? How long can a business (or a government, for that matter) stay viable when people refuse to work together?
"Together we will stand, divided we'll fall;
Come on now, people, let's get on the ball
And work together..."
(Wilbert Harrison, "Let's Stick Together," recorded in 1962.)